Mark of the Rookie

There’s an easy way to gauge another cyclist’s experience and ability: Check his right calf. If there’s a greasy chainring-shaped mark on it, be confident that you can outride him.

Unless, of course, you have a similar mark on your own right calf.

This mark — sometimes called the “Rookie Mark”  — tends to get pressed into your leg when you do either of the following:

  • Stop  and rest while straddling your top tube, inadvertently pressing your calf up against your chainring, which is — sadly — lubed with an overabundance of greasy kid’s stuff. This produces a nice, sharp, tattoo-like rookie mark.
  • Fall over while still clipped into your pedals. This produces a somewhat less aesthetically-pleasing rookie mark, because the grease gets smudged as you thrash around like a trapped otter.

With Experience Comes Wisdom. Usually.

As you ride more, you’ll find you get the rookie mark less often. You’re not overlubing anymore, you’ve learned not to lean your chainring against your calf, and you’re not falling over on your side like a keystone kop.

Unless you’re me, in which case you still come home with a rookie mark after pretty much every ride, in spite of the fact that you’ve been riding for ten years or so.


I Nearly Embrace My Inner Fred

In acknowledgement of the fact that I will likely forever be a clumsy oaf, I have actually thought about formalizing it, by having a rookie mark tattooed on my calf. I’ve never followed through, though. I always chicken out, thinking, “Will my sense of humor be the same when I’m 75 as it is today?”

I just can’t quite envision explaining my rookie mark tattoo to my grandkids, at least not without an accompanying vison of their parents later having a quiet talk about visiting the insane gramps guy a lot less often.

So, no tattoo. Yet.


A More Emphatic Rookie Mark

The thing is, as of last Saturday, a rookie mark tattoo may be beside the point. Nick and I were riding at Soaring Eagle Park, doing our three tries on log moves, as required by law.

We were trying a log I had never done before: it was about eight inches in diameter, but was not touching the trail. I’d guess it was resting about six inches above the ground where it crossed the trail.

That’s not what made it tricky, though.

What made this move tricky was that it was downhill, a much more difficult position to start the wheelie from. And the exit was an immediate sharp right turn, if you didn’t want to roll down a bank into blackberry bushes.

I missed on my first try; basically, it was nothing but a chicken-out. On my second try, I got high-centered and bailed out. On my third try, I went for it and very nearly cleaned it, then fell forward, over the bike. My chainring dug in.

I was wearing tights (very manly black mountain biker tights, mind you), which did not seem to be ripped. I dealt with the pain and we rode on.

When I got home, here’s what I found:


My fondest hope is that it will form a really cool-looking scar. Like a rookie-mark tattoo, but earned, instead of bought.

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